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March 28, 2016 11:43 am

Soccer Superstar Leo Messi Under Fire in Egypt for Donating Shoes to Charity (VIDEO)

avatar by Ruthie Blum

Lionel "Leo" Messi. Photo: Wikipedia/Christopher Johnson.

Lionel “Leo” Messi. Photo: Wikipedia/Christopher Johnson.

Soccer superstar Lionel “Leo” Messi inadvertently caused outrage in Egypt on Monday when he announced he was donating his shoes to charity.

Appearing on the program “Yes I am famous,” on the Saudi-owned Egyptian network MBC, Messi – the Argentinian who plays as a forward for the Spanish club, Barcelona, and Argentina’s national team — gave his female host a pair of his shoes and asked her to have them auctioned off in Egypt, earmarking the proceeds for needy children.

Because shoes have a negative connotation in Arab culture, indicating insult or humiliation, Egyptians expressed their anger on social media, accusing Messi of belittling them. Some recalled the soccer giant’s visit to Israel three ago and said, “It’s no wonder. Messi is a Jew,” though he is not.

Among Messi’s detractors was Egypt’s former national team captain, Ahmad Hassan.“For shame,” he was quoted by privately owned Egyptian newspaper Youm7 to have said, “This is hugely insulting to the great country of Egypt. With all respect to him as a football [soccer] star, we do not need his shoes.”

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But Hamem Emam, a retired Egyptian soccer player, considered to be among the most popular in the Middle East, came to Messi’s defense.

“It is common for soccer players to donate their shoes,” he said. “Messi was not showing a lack of respect for Egyptians.”

To illustrate, Emam pointed to another former Egyptian soccer player, Mahmoud El-Khatib – nicknamed Bibo — “who also donated his shoes to charity.”

Watch a short segment of Messi’s interview on MBC below:

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